Skip to content

The simple plan for ultimate back mass

Der einfache Plan für ultimative Rückenmasse

Strong back, strong body

If there is one muscle group that really separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to weight training and bodybuilding, it is without question a muscular, strong back. Back development is the foundation on which an impressive body and superhuman strength are built. A friend of mine once said "I've seen weak guys who had muscular arms and impressive pecs, but I've never seen a weak guy with a broad back."

To build layers of muscular back muscle mass, you need to move heavy weights both horizontally and vertically. You'll be strong at virtually everything you do... and you'll look damn impressive doing it. Here's an overview of what a basic back workout really looks like.

Why most backs are weak and narrow

I see people doing a lot of weird exercises in the gym these days, with most of them unable to perform even the basic multi-joint exercises with even a hint of efficiency. This is no accident.

Most exercisers must first become exceptionally strong at a few basic multi-joint exercises and spend a few years consistently setting new personal bests before they can worry about needing a weird exercise for the teres major and lower trapezius. Here's what we should be asking these people:

"Why are you lying upside down on a Swiss Ball performing one-arm cable rows while talking about proper thoracic extensor when you can't even do barbell rows with your own bodyweight or 10 strict pull-ups? Maybe you'd be more muscular if you addressed this issue instead of worrying about the angle at which your prumbria dyfuria contracts when the artichoke unvebrula is inverted in the sagittal plane."

Whether it's under the barre or under the stress of daily life, you'll be surprised how simply getting stronger can be a cure for most problems. This applies to every muscle group and includes the back.

Back width and thickness

Let's talk in bro lingo here:

Vertical pulling (like pull-ups and lat pull-downs) generally builds the latissimus. These exercises broaden your back. Horizontal pulling (like rowing) generally makes your back thicker in the midsection, rhomboid muscles and trapezius area. Variations of the deadlift build dense back extensors.

These are common conclusions that experienced exercisers have formed through trial and error. If you need a complicated explanation and rat studies, there's a good chance you won't follow through and build your back anyway.

And to all those who continue to wonder if there are some specific exercises that are the secret answer to their hypertrophy prayers, let me say at this point that no such thing exists. We already know the answers and they are quite simple: heavy basic exercises, time under tension, proper technique and consistency.

When barbell rowing goes wrong

Rowing is crucial for a muscular back and yet many exercisers don't get as much out of this exercise as they could. But what are they doing wrong? It varies. There are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to barbell rowing execution. And those who are stuck on one of those ends are forgoing potential gains.

  1. The super strict exercisers: Those on the super-strict end of the spectrum will limit the amount of weight they use because they are in a stock-stiff position that doesn't allow for more weight. They think that any body movement is "bad form" and tell everyone that they will break their back if they use any kind of significant weights.
  2. The Dry Swimmer: The exerciser on the other end of the spectrum uses way too much weight and basically just kind of yanks the weight up against their stomach. This type of exercise execution involves very little time under tension, as all the exerciser is doing is somehow getting the weight up with maximum momentum.

The first group is too rigid and limits the amount of total tension that can be generated and the second group needs to stop watching homemade R Kelly videos. Do you think you belong to either of these camps? There are a few ways you can make your rowing more efficient, safe and productive.

The basics of barbell rowing

Before you start, get into position. The supporting muscle groups must be in the safest and most stable position during the exercise. To do this, you need to fix the joints at angles in which the antagonistic muscles play a strong isometric role.

You can achieve this strong and stable position in the following way:

  1. Shift your weight onto your heels. Imagine you want to do Romanian deadlifts. Shift the weight onto your heels to balance the weight of the barbell in front of your body. Think about anchoring the posterior muscle chain.
  2. Breathe into your diaphragm. Breathe deeply into your abdomen and push your abdominal muscles down and your obliques out. This generates intra-abdominal pressure, which helps to stabilize your spine.
  3. Activate your latissimus and upper back. How do you do this? By rotating your elbows back and pulling your shoulder blades down. This will do a number of things. It will help you to initiate the movement with your latissimus and mid-back and help you to move in line with proper breathing, which in turn will help you to keep your spine stable.

Once you are in this position, there are a few things that can make the actual act of rowing more effective.

Use the bar to set the correct angle of your torso

People often wonder what the angle of the torso should be during the barbell row. You can use the barbell bar as a guide to find the optimal angle of the torso and the correct range of motion for the rowing movement.

At the lowest point of the range of motion, the bar should be slightly below your knees.

If the lowest position the bar reaches is above your knees - which is usually the case for the dry swimmers mentioned above - then you are basically performing slightly bent over shoulder raises (shrugs) and using the latissimus and upper back only over a very limited range of motion. The trapezius will do most of the work. Trapezius training is great, but there are better ways to build the trapezius.

Just below the knees is the optimal point that allows you to move a reasonable amount of weight through the full range of motion with a useful amount of reps (8 to 12). It is true that the latissimus can be stretched further if you go a little lower, but you may compromise a stable and strong position of the lumbar spine.

Row the bar towards your lower abs

This is another one that confuses people. When you pull the bar towards your chest, the lever arm from the hip to the bar becomes very long and the lower back is put under a lot of stress as it has to compensate for this lever arm. Place less stress on the lower back so that the muscles of the middle back receive the most tension.

To train yourself, remember the following: Weight on your heels, load the posterior chain of muscles, elbows back to engage the latissimus, shoulder blades down to engage the upper back, lower the bar to just below your knees and pull the bar towards your abs. It's not that hard - now row some heavy weights.

Dorian deadlift

I refer to this exercise as the Dorian deadlift because Dorian Yates was the first person I saw perform deadlifts this way.

Despite all the talk about deadlifts being a great building exercise for the back, the first part of the exercise puts a lot of stress on the hamstrings and to a lesser extent the gluteus. The muscles of the back end up working in an isometric fashion to prevent your spine from shooting backwards out of your body.

Conventional deadlifts performed through the full range of motion are actually a performance of two exercises: a press from the floor and then a pull through the knees. The push from the floor is powered by the legs. Then, when the bar reaches about knee height and the hamstrings have done their part of the job, the rhomboids, latissimus and trapezius work isometrically to hold the position while the movement is completed.

Conventional deadlifts, which are performed through the full range of motion, have a number of deficiencies when it comes to building the back muscles.

  1. There is not much emphasis on the eccentric portion of the repetition where the growth potential is higher.
  2. There is not a large eccentric portion. The lumbar muscles, trapezius and rhomboids do most of their work over a short range of motion during the concentric movement to maintain proper spinal alignment.

With Dorian deadlifts you solve both of these problems. This exercise involves an emphasized eccentric movement and it generates more tension for the entire back musculature.

The execution:

Start with a full repetition and then lower the weight from the highest position to just below the knees before starting the next repetition. As the eccentric movement remains in a loaded position, the shoulder blades lose retraction. The concentric forces of the trapezius and upper back pull the shoulder blades back in proper alignment with the spine. Now we're talking about a lot of tension distribution from the back extensors and through the upper back. That's a good thing.

Why can't you just do rack pulls (deadlifts from a rack) from the same height? That is an option. The shortcoming of this option, however, is that unlike Dorian deadlifts, when you put the bar on the rack, all the muscles are released and you lose tension. In Dorian deadlifts, the lumbar muscles and upper back remain contracted to keep the spine in the correct position in the range of motion, where these muscles have to work the hardest.

Rope Pulldowns(

This exercise is rarely seen in most gyms, but this exercise is still a great back exercise as you can achieve a very strong maximum contraction in the latissimus. First allow a full stretch of the latissimus and then pull the elbows down and back as far as you can. Do this while forming a slight hollow back and sticking your chest out in front. It's not rocket science.


This method will give you the fastest boost in pull-ups:

  1. After warming up, add some weight using a dip belt and perform 5 repetitions.
  2. Increase the weight a little on the next set and perform 4 repetitions.
  3. Increase the weight again and perform 3 repetitions.
  4. Add some more weight and perform 2 repetitions.
  5. Then perform a single repetition that is heavy for you but that you can still perform with strength and explosiveness.
  6. Then perform two sets of pull-ups using only your bodyweight and as many repetitions as possible.

Each week, try to increase the weight on the heaviest single repetition and the number of repetitions on the bodyweight sets.

The factor that drives this principle is using the correct amount of weight on the heaviest single repetition. This is the key to success as this heavy single repetition will be very difficult for you and will challenge your nervous system to the point where the subsequent bodyweight sets become demanding. You will no longer be able to perform as many repetitions with your own body weight as you normally would and without this heavy single repetition you would not reap the same benefits.

Train your back twice a week

If you really want to push your back strength and back development, then train twice a week. Choose a conventional exercise and then either barbell rowing or Dorian deadlifts.

Day 1

  • Rope pulldowns: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Dorian deadlift: 2 sets of 6-8 repetitions

Day 2

  • Pull-ups: 5,4,3,2,1 - 2 x as many bodyweight reps as possible
  • Barbell rowing: 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions

How to train your back every day

You can also choose one of these exercises every day and perform them in a rotating order. Try this for three weeks. Aim to set a personal best and then take a week off from back training.

  • Day 1: Dorian deadlift - 1 set of 6-8 repetitions
  • Day 2: Pull-ups: 5,4,3,2,1 - 2 x as many bodyweight reps as possible
  • Day 3: Rope pulldowns - 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Day 4: Barbell rowing - 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Day 5: Start the cycle from the beginning

Move some heavy iron

There will come a day when the basics and progressive overload won't get you much further. But you need to put some quality time into these two things before you turn over every stone to fill in the gaps.

If you want to build an impressive amount of base muscle, then start by building your strength with the basic exercises. Get to the point where you can move some really heavy iron. Stop neglecting your back if you want to achieve significantly more strength and power and better body development.


By Paul Carter

Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss